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3 Decisions when Starting at a New Church

Photo of Matt StiegerMatt Stieger | Bio

Matt Stieger

Matt Stieger grew up in the great city of Buffalo, NY. Since graduating from Ozark Christian College in 2008, he has taken his love for pizza and chicken wings to a small town in North Missouri. Matt serves as the Lead Minister of Crossroads Christian Church in Macon.  Crossroads is in a small town but would not reflect your typical "country church." He loves to see Jesus collide with everyday life to create authentic disciples. Matt leads with a passion for the church. He has a desire to see a community of imperfect people learn to follow Jesus together and have fun along the way. Matt has an incredible wife, Emily, and they have four crazy kids: Reagan, Levi, Jackson, and Maggie. They make his home an exciting adventure to say the least!

Walking into a new job can be exhilarating and exhausting. You have so many hopes and dreams as you are expectant of what God is going to do. With fresh eyes on the scene, it is easy to see everything that you think needs to be fixed. You notice all of the changes you want to make in order for the church to be better, more well run, and set up to succeed. You want to solve all of the last guy’s problems while at the same time putting your best foot forward.

The temptation is to walk into a church and explain everything they are doing wrong and how you can improve it. The struggle lies in the fact that this church has been this way for years. When they hear everything you think is wrong, they hear, “YOU are wrong as people.” This is defeating even if you design it to be encouraging. If you don’t keep your “rescuer or fixer” mentality in check, you will soon find yourself wading through your new problems and tripping over your feet.

Almost 14 years ago, I had all of those thoughts and aspirations. However, I decided to start with people before the process. You can have the best strategies and plans in the world, but if you don’t spend time with people, you will go nowhere. What should our steps be walking into a new situation?

Here are three healthy steps when walking into a new church:

1. Build Relationships with Other Leaders

Leadership is the foundation of movement in the church. However, as leaders working with others, we will only go as far as our relationships let us. Learn who you are serving alongside outside of a meeting. Go to lunch, invite them for dinner, drink coffee, play golf, or go fishing. You cannot walk in with an agenda more than just building a friendship. Ask more questions than you make statements.

As a 23-year-old new preacher, I sat alongside elders who were all old enough to be my dad…at least! Yet, in those first couple of years, essential leadership choices were a matter of sitting around a campfire, eating spaghetti, and getting up early for breakfast with those guys. Building relationships outside of church builds trust with those you are leading in the church. In the future, when you are sitting in a meeting navigating the tensions of change, you will return to the trust and relationship you built early on.

“Building relationships outside of church builds trust with those you are leading in the church.”

2. Love People First

A call to shepherd the church is about people. You can have the best program ideas, leadership structure, and systems galore, but if there is no one around, what good is it? Love the people, and they will learn to follow your leadership. God has uniquely placed you in a community to love people as they have never been loved before, like Jesus. Learn people’s family stories and what people enjoy.

Show up at community events and ball games. Stop and talk to people at the grocery store, volunteer at the school, and go out to eat at the local restaurant. Host an open house at your place with snacks or ice cream, or fire up the grill. Sit and listen in the middle of brokenness and be present during heartache and loss. Loving people doesn’t need to be complicated but does need to be constant. The more time we spend with the people we are called to lead and shepherd, the better we will be at leading and shepherding.

“Loving people doesn’t need to be complicated but does need to be constant.”


3. Preach Hope

The best words that you can preach are the GOOD NEWS of Jesus. The topics are endless, and the series are countless, but hope found in Jesus is eternal. Hope breeds action. Hope builds up and breathes life into dry bones. Transitions are hard for churches and pastors. Focusing on the good works that Jesus has done and can do is kingdom medicine for both our churches and us.

In many rural churches, hope seems lost because the town is shrinking, businesses are closing, and young families are moving away. A consistent message of hope reminds churches of the God we are following and his power. The God that split seas, healed lepers, and fed thousands is the same God that loves our towns and churches. We can preach on serving, giving, and a big vision, but if people don’t know the hopeful “why” of Jesus, actions will quickly fade away.

“A consistent message of hope reminds churches of the God we are following and his power.”

Walking into a new church and community can be terrifying and exciting, but it doesn’t need to be tumultuous with a quick exit. Instead, recognize that God has given you a great opportunity with good people to show Jesus to your small piece of the world. Don’t allow your good plans to supersede His great plans for His church.

From Used with permission.